This season we have been reflecting on 10 Years at Oteley Road - to celebrate this we will be bringing you an exclusive interview with a player from the last decade. Today it is Graham Coughlan!
Graham Coughlan was just 90 minutes away from becoming a Shrewsbury Town legend, but in the end his time with the club is tinged with disappointment.
Had Town managed to beat Gillingham at Wembley on 23rd May 2009, Coughlan would have become the first, and so far only, Shrewsbury Captain to have tasted success at the national stadium.
Despite not managing to do that, he still went onto make almost 100 appearances for the club and he has fond memories of his time here.
“I knew all about the club because I’m a bit of a football buff, but I came down had a little look around and my first impressions were certainly ‘Wow!’”, Coughlan told Town Talk.
“Paul Simpson was a well-known, well recognised manager. He was talking as well about signing the likes of Grant Holt and as soon as he was mentioning things like that I was thinking to myself ‘this club is going to go on’.
“Then you bump into the Chairman and you left in no uncertain terms as to what he wanted to achieve, and I was all over that. Both Manager and Chairman really laid it on the line and their ambition and their drive was there for all to see.”
Coughlan was one of a number of high-profile signings that summer and the teams early season form certainly set the bar high in terms of ambitions, as the Irish defender explains.
“We certainly got the belief and the momentum started to gather”, said Graham.
“When you bring a squad together, the first couple of months are always important because traditionally they will tell you that it won’t be until October or November when you start gelling, but we picked it up early doors and we got off to a flying start.
“I think I scored on my debut against Macclesfield at home and we got a four-nil win. Shane Cansdell-Sherriff scored that day as well and we looked really good, we look as if we were a decent team early doors, but maybe we peaked too early.”
The home form continued to thrive, but it was on the road that the team struggled to keep the momentum. After winning their first away game of the season at Exeter City, the squad had to wait until the penultimate game of the season, away at Rotherham, to find another win on the road. Graham admits that it effected their promotion chances, but can’t put his finger on the reasons behind the away form.
“There was no specific reason why we struggled away from home”, Coughlan admitted.
“One of the things the Chairman actually asked of me when I came in was to shore up the defence in order to try and get better results on the road, which I obviously failed to do, but there was no specific reason.
“Even looking back in hindsight I don’t think you could have really put your finger on it really. We travelled well, we had the best hotels, we had the best food, we were always well prepared, so there aren’t any real reasons, but ultimately that cost us and was why we ended up in the Play-Offs.”
Having finished seventh in the league Town were the lowest ranked side in the Play-Offs, but they managed to see off Bury over two legs, thanks to an incredible effort from the whole squad at Gigg Lane. They were then pitted against a Gillingham side that they had beaten 7-0 earlier in the season, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be at Wembley, as Coughlan explains.
“The Play-Offs is probably one of the best ways to get promoted because of the day out at Wembley and the success that that brings, but it was heart-breaking to be honest with you”, Graham said.
“Did we do enough in the final? Did we ask enough questions? Did we create enough chances? I still don’t think so. I still think we came up short on the day and ultimately lost the game.
“I’ve been to Wembley three or four times and it’s one of those things that lives with you and you just can’t shake it no matter what you do or where you go. Every time you see or hear Wembley Stadium that’s the first thing that springs to your mind.”
Of the eleven players that lined-up for Shrewsbury in that final, only four were in the side that started the first game of the following season. Influential figures such as Grant Holt, Ben Davies and Chris Humphrey had moved on and Coughlan believes that played its part in the difficult season that followed.
“One thing that was very difficult then was trying to not only pick myself, but to pick-up the dressing room for the start of the next campaign”, continued Graham.
“I take my hat off to any manager and any club that don’t succeed but then the following year they come back and succeed, because I know how difficult it is to pick people up.
“The following season we didn’t really get going at all. We struggled from the get-go and it wasn’t great to be honest. You need to have a clean-sheet mentality at the back and up top you need someone that’s going to get you 15-20 goals a season.
“When I was at Plymouth we always said that if you can get a striker that will score you 20 goals and a back-four that will keep 20 clean-sheets that will more or less guarantee you promotion, but we fell well short of that.”
With just a couple of games to go Paul Simpson was shown the door. He hadn’t achieved the promotion he had set out to achieve, but Graham has a lot of respect for his former boss.
“There’s no doubt about it that he was a decent manager,” Coughlan said.
“He was driven, he was organised, he was well-structured, he knew the game and just because he failed at Shrewsbury, and because I failed at Shrewsbury, doesn’t mean that Paul Simpson or Graham Coughlan are bad people, or bad managers, or bad players - sometimes that just happens.
“I will never shy away from looking in the mirror and pointing the finger at myself more than anybody else, but it doesn’t mean we are bad players or bad managers. We gave our all and we just came up short.”
Coughlan soon followed him out of the door at the Meadow as he left the club in the summer of 2010 to join Southend United. He admits that his time with Shrewsbury is tinged with disappointment, but overall he enjoyed his time in SY2.
“I really enjoyed it and I’ve been lucky enough to go back so many times,” said Graham.
“Some people never get that opportunity, but I’ve been back not only to play against them, but I’ve been in the dugout as well for the eight years against them. I always get a warm reception, I always get a lot of well-wishers and it is definitely a club that I have fond memories of.
“I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve with the football club, so that’s maybe tarnished it a little bit, but it’s a brilliant club, a brilliant set-up and hats off to those that put that together and built that club from where it was to where it is now."